Turkey’s referendum: mainstreaming democracy or one-man rule?

An in-depth exploration of the constitutional changes that Turkey's citizens will be voting on in the upcoming referendum from TRT World's Managing Editor, Editor-at-Large and legal team.

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Supporters of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan wave "Yes" campaign banners during a rally for the upcoming referendum in Istanbul.

Updated Apr 16, 2017
Resul Serdar Atas, Ahmed Al Burai and Yesim Mehmet Resul Serdar Atas is Managing Editor, Ahmed Al Burai is Editor-at-large, and Yesim Mehmet is part of the legal team at TRT World.

As Turkey stands on the verge of a new constitutional epoch, there is a clear national and international predisposition, to view Turkey’s proposed constitutional amendments as a democratic tool that will ultimately steer the country away from being a beacon of democracy in the Middle East towards a totalitarian regime. Critics of the proposed reforms unanimously argue that president Erdogan’s mounting support is a shield to disguise his increasing power, and that the reforms will initiate an era where the Turkish Presidency will harbour more power than the American executive. 

Under the proposed amendments, the president is accused of simultaneously dominating over the powers of the executive, legislative, and judiciary. It is alleged that he has fortified himself against all systems of accountability, violating the essence of checks and balances that are required for any democracy.

However, a deeper review of the proposed amendments to the constitution reveals that the objective is simply to determine the nature of the relationship between the legislative, executive and judicial powers and their relevant boundaries.  The proposed amendments will try to overcome the ambiguities present in the 1982 constitution of conflicting powers and the overlapping authority vested in both the head of state and the head of government while, at the same time not only keeping the core of checks and balances intact, but further strengthening them.  
With the proposed amendments the constitution boldly puts forward a model of coordinated reciprocal and beneficial separation of powers, so that the legislature and executive can function independently within their own authority, and carry out their relevant duties efficiently without restricting the other’s performance. 

Some critics argue that the problems in Turkey stem from the practises of the current government and not in the constitution itself. The subsequent conclusion is that there is no genuine need to change the style of governance. However, it is inevitable that a constitution drafted by a group of putschists in 1982 in the aftermath of the coup of 1980, cannot meet the requirements of a new Turkish era of democratic renaissance. 

What's this referendum about?

The current constitution of Turkey has been modified more than 17 times since its approval on 7 November 1982, but the pending amendment that is scheduled for 16 April 2017 has encountered unprecedented national and international media attention. Much of this attention has lacked a factual and fundamental understanding of the changes being proposed.

On 21 January 2017, the Turkish Grand National Assembly (TGNA) endorsed a package of constitutional amendments with 339 votes – nine more than the 330 required. "This is a betrayal to the parliament”, said Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of main opposition leader in Turkey. “Our people will undoubtedly unravel the game that was played in parliament”. Despite accusations of a staged “game”, the 18-article constitutional amendments were passed through parliament with the required three-fifths majority in a democratic and transparent manner. Each article of the bill was put to vote individually in the 550-seat parliament, where the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) holds 317 seats. With the support of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), the legislature approved the proposed draft to be presented to the public for a nation-wide referendum.

Almost immediately after the Turkish parliament paved the way for constitutional amendments that would allow the introduction of a presidential system in Turkey, European and international media outlets launched fierce campaigns creating a perception of Turkey tottering down a path of dictatorship and one-man autocracy.

Le Monde published an article titled “Turkey facing Putinisation” in which the author claimed that if the coming referendum results in the acceptance the proposed package of constitutional reforms, president Erdogan’s powers will definitely override the powers of parliament, just as president Vladimir Putin has done in Russia. Meanwhile, a columnist for Berliner Zeitung wrote an article titled “The Turks knuckle under,” where he pointed to a number of surveys that state only 15% of Turkish voters are familiar with the essence of the proposed constitutional reform. He added that there is a widespread state of panic among critics because they are afraid of ending up in jail. The writer questioned how a fair constitutional referendum could be conducted under the state of emergency that has persisted since the July 2016 coup attempt.

In Turkey, Ali Bayramoglu, a well-known writer and columnist who recently left a 15-year stint as a columnist for the pro-government daily Yeni Safak, wrote an article “Will the presidential referendum kill Turkey’s democracy?”. In the article he claimed that the constitutional reform contains all the elements necessary to move Turkey away from the fundamental models of a pluralist, democratic state of law and convert it into a majoritarian dictatorial state.

In a nutshell, there are a wide range of articles arguing that Turkey, which used to be an ideal democracy in the Middle East, is coming terrifyingly close to tyrannical rule. The critics unanimously consider president Erdogan’s mounting power to be a cause for concern because he is codifying autocracy through democratic means.

However, regardless of the state of emergency, this is not AK Party’s first amendment to the constitution on the path of democratization.  The AK Party came to power in 2002 and since then it has initiated 10 amendments to the constitution that was initially drafted by the military junta that came to power after a military coup in September 1980. The last referendum took place on 12 September 2010, when there was no state of emergency where 57.88% of the voters still voted in favor of the proposed changes while 42.12% voted against the reformed package. What makes the coming constitution unique is that it aims to replace the current parliamentary system with a presidential system of democratic governance.

Does Turkey really need constitutional change?

President Erdogan relentlessly and consistently states that the current system of governance is futile and ineffective because it simply does not meet the requirements of Turkey’s fast-paced growth. President Erdogan maintains that because he is Turkey's first democratically elected president with 52% of the votes of the public he cannot accept the ceremonial nature of the presidency because the public has entrusted him with the authority to represent their will.

The constitution was initially drafted in 1982 by a group of putschists in the aftermath of the coup of 1980 and is argued not to fulfill the demands of the new Turkish era of legitimate democracy.

The initial drafters of the constitution were not chosen through free and fair contested elections and did not constitute a fair representation of the social structure of Turkey at that time. There were no negotiations at the Turkish Grand National Assembly and the strong authoritarian structure of bureaucratic elites was directly reflected in the resulting Constitution.  It was specifically designed to restrict political engagement by imposing prohibitions on the activities of political parties, banning civil society institutions from political participation and restricting the powers of elected representatives so as to reduce civilian presence. Having undergone three direct military interventions, the authoritarian nature of the military is so deeply enshrined that subsequent attempts to democratize the Constitution have not been sufficient to accommodate civil participation.  The repercussions can still be seen in the system of governance today, which is an ambiguous synthesis of both presidential and parliamentary systems. The parliament is directly elected by the people to represent the public however the president is elected by the Turkish Grand National Assembly and was initially intended as a seat for a representative from the military to restrict the powers of Parliament. The conflicting powers and overlapping authority vested in both the head of state and the head of government has led to a paralysis in decision-making procedures and has caused instability, economic recession and periods of fatal inflation.

The constitutional amendments will not only increase stability and predictability by eliminating the environment in which chaos has thrived on over the years but most importantly it will facilitate civil engagement which the Constitution was initially designed to minimize.

The suggested changes for the system is believed to be an inevitable necessity for several reasons:

  1. In theory, it’s believed that Turkey is democratically governed by a parliamentary system, in fact; however, the current system is a combination of semi-presidential and semi-parliamentarian governance. This ambiguity created grave problems at critical moments in contemporary Turkish history. Supporters of reforms in France which, underwent a series of failures of different versions of parliamentary systems ultimately, found itself indebted to Charles de Gaulle’s proposition of a solid presidential system.     
  2. Most importantly, a presidential system will end the irrefutable constitutional dilemma of conflicting executive power of the president overlapping the authority of the prime minister.
  3. Rationalizing the parliamentary system in Turkey proved to be inadequate and ineffective. The proposed presidency system will by far secure the political stability of the country. It will save the executive from the withdrawal of confidence because the president will no longer be elected from within the Turkish Grand National Assembly and will not need its authorization. The vote of confidence will come directly from civil participation.
  4. If the people vote ‘Yes’ to the presidential system, Turkey will be relieved from the burden of fragmented coalition governments that have caused political and economic instability and missed opportunities to be a strong global actor.
  5. It gives the president more room to appoint competent professionals and technocrats with the required qualifications to fulfill their duties competently. Appointing Ministers that are not from within the parliament and that do not have partisan affiliations prevents polarization and facilitates a strict separation of powers.
  6. It will restore the essence of the parliament, which would start effectively practicing its natural task as the legislature in drafting, amending and approving laws and regulations.
  7. In light of escalating domestic and international threats to peace and security, Turkey requires more effective and efficient executive decrees that the presidential system will allow.   

A constantly growing country like Turkey needs to re-determine its constitutional boundaries. It should either be a parliamentary system (like Germany and Italy) where, the executive power acquires its democratic legitimacy from a parliament with a strong prime minister that is not restricted by bureaucratic state elites or military tutelage or there should be a presidential system (like France and USA), where the president is the head of government, and is not bestowed powers by the legislature but instead consolidates democratic legitimacy through the votes of the public. Such governance will eliminate the executive having to be subservient to a Parliament where legislators can enforce supreme power.

President Erdogan and his supporters believe that a presidential system akin to the models in the United States or France, would avoid coalition governments that have hampered its progress in the past. The opposition parties believe that a reformed parliamentary structure of governance would be more suitable because they argue the problem is not in the constitution itself but rather within the practices of the government.  They do not foresee the political stability that will arise when the head of government and the head of state are channeled through one point of authority overcoming the conflict of power in the current system.

Ultimately, it is the Turkish electorate that is entitled to decide and is the duty of political parties, intellectuals, and media outlets to raise awareness about the proposed amendments so that voters are enlighten with impartial assessments and freely decide. Regardless of the outcome of the referendum, high public participation in the political debates and constitutional processes is progress that is to be appreciated in light of the contemporary historical experiences of military tutelage. If not a result of the coming referendum eventually constitutional reform is inevitable. 

Refuting opposition criticism

The main opposition leader of CHP in Turkey, Kemal Kilicdaroglu said, “This is not a move to change the system, this is rather an attempt to introduce one-man rule”. Interestingly, Kilicdaroglu has recently also announced that he opposes the whole reform package because of problems and indifferences that could arise if the prime minister and president were to be elected from different political parties. It seems as though that the main opposition leader has forgotten that the new system would not have a position for a prime minister.

Opposition parties argue that the suggested reforms will inaugurate an era of totalitarian rule and bolster Erdogan’s hold on power to the extent that he will be more powerful than the American executive. Under the new constitution, the president will be eligible to run for two more terms; theoretically presiding over Turkey as an extremely influential executive until 2029. The amended constitution, if endorsed, would not be retroactive in effect; it will only start with ratification and new elections.

  1. Administrative objections

The opposition states that there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with interchanging the parliamentary system with a presidential one. However, they believe that timing is the most pernicious element of the proposed change. The proposal was officially introduced for debate and discussion six months after the failed coup attempt on 15 July 2016.  Critics argue that the changes lack the required community consensus and political compatibility.

To the contrary, it is well known that the draft has been on the table since 2002.  The ruling party has even previously asked the main opposition party to offer its own draft version of the constitution so that they may negotiate the proposed changes based on the opposing party’s foundations. In order to keep an atmosphere of compromise and consensus, AK party made sure that the representation of the parties’ committee that drafted the constitutional reform package was not based on their representing ratios in parliament but rather they were chosen equally.  The government's draft constitution has so far received strong support from the Nationalist Movement Party and they succeeded to pass the law through parliament without the support of the other parties.

  1. Checks and balances

Another perilous criticism is that the proposed presidential system violates the most influential tool of democratic states, that is the checks and balances which, preserve the balance of powers of each branch of government. Under the proposed draft it is further argued that the president dominates over executive, legislative, and judiciary powers and fortifies himself against accountability.

For example, to refer the president to the constitutional court for any impeachment, the consent of at least 400 out of 600 deputies will be required. The opposition falsely believes that there will be no investigation by any state or legal body in areas under the president’s executive authority, which is a clear prescription of dictatorship. Moreover, the opposition parties argue that under the changed system, the presidential position would have more constitutional powers that enable him to dissolve the parliament and call for an early election at his own discretion.

However, the proposed draft concentrates more on the essence of the relationship between the legislative, executive and judiciary powers and the main characteristics of a presidential system that keeps the core of checks and balances intact while further strengthening them. In this context, a critical issue that is fundamentally vital to safeguarding principles:  article 116 stipulates that the timing of constituency and presidential elections will be simultaneous so that both parliament and president are elected on the same day. The importance of having both elections on the same day and fix term tenure of five years is to increase predictability and stability and minimize the repercussions of having scattered elections.

To increase accountability of the president the Turkish Grand National Assembly can call for new elections and reciprocally the president can decide on renewing elections concurrently.

The presidential elections will be held through a run-off voting system to prevent single-round elections which provide for candidates with low votes to be elected which is not a democratically legitimate representation of the social structure of Turkey. Further causing fragmentation and polarization in the Turkish Grand National Assembly. In the run-off voting system, the two candidates with the highest votes from the first round can continue to the second round if the required majority is not reached. This provides for a stronger consensus between different political tendencies as they unite and harmonize policies to secure seats. When the president is elected in such an atmosphere of consensus and is supported with a high number of votes democratic legitimacy is consolidated.

Article 116: Renewal of the elections of the Grand National Assembly and the presidency 

The current version

The proposed version

In cases where the Council of Ministers fails to receive a vote of confidence under Article 110 or falls by a vote of no-confidence under article 99 or 111, if a new Council of Ministers cannot be formed within forty-five days or fails to receive a vote of confidence, the President of the Republic, in consultation with the Speaker of the Grand National Assembly of Turkey may decide to renew the elections. 

New elections can be called either with a three-fifth vote of the Grand National Assembly or by the President’s decision. The elections are held together. Both the president’s and the Grand National Assembly members’ terms are five years.

 

To guarantee the validity of checks and balances the approval of the parliament on any presidential decree is required. Parliament will continue to be the legislature and enact laws. The president will only be able to provide executive decrees regarding executive functions. Such executive decrees are required because the president is vested with the duty of enforcing the law of the legislature and they are inherent part of the president’s duty to fulfill his obligations of enforcement. Contrary to the arguments that presidential decrees bestow the president with law making power, if legislature approves a law on a same subject, the law of the legislature will override the presidential decree. Therefore, if the law and an executive deecree conflict the law will supersede. Upon review of the process in practice, presidential decrees are found beneficial when the legislature is reluctant or negligent to make regulations on required subjects as the president is able to enact an executive decree, which in turn will initiate parliament to take action promoting fast and efficient decision-making.

One must also draw attention to the fact that the current constitutional amendments do not change fundamental rights and duties of individuals. The proposed authority for presidential decrees does not allow the executive to regulate fundamental rights, rights and duties of individuals stated in Chapter 1 and 2 of the Constitution, and political rights and duties stated in Chapter 4 of the Constitution. Clearly limiting the scope of executive decrees to only facilitating the functions of the executive.

The president will also have authority to prepare the budget, this is the only law that the president can propose. If budget debates of parliament are not conclusive the president, will have authority to implement a temporary budget the same as that of the previous year to prevent economics crises and fluctuating inflation rates.

The parliaments existing right to “interpellation” which is a practical and symbolic tool initiated to halt the workflow of ministers and request an explanation from them will be. The opposition claims that the parliament will not be able to question the government or demand ministers to appear before parliament to answer inquiries. In practice however, the new system enables parliament to supervise the cabinet of ministers. Upon comparing the current and proposed amendment of article 98 it reveals that all supervisory mechanisms for checks and balances of the existing system except a vote of confidence and censory clearly remains. The president will be accountable through a broadened ‘parliamentary inquiry’, ‘general debate’ that is the same as the previous constitution, ‘parliamentary investigation’ that is authorized and initiated by the parliament, ‘written investigations’ which the executive will be obliged to reply to within fifteen days and ‘parliamentary petitions’. As the president will no longer emerge from parliament and is democratically elected by free and fair contested elections there will no longer be an inherent requirement of parliament to provide a vote of confidence as such it will become obsolete.

Article 98: Ways of the Grand National Assembly’s information acquisition and supervision

The current version

The proposed version

The Grand National Assembly of Turkey shall exercise its supervisory power by means of question, parliamentary inquiry, general debate, censure and parliamentary investigations.

The Grand National Assembly of Turkey shall exercise its supervisor power by means of parliamentary inquiry, general debate, parliamentary investigations and written questions.

 

Undoubtedly, the proposed constitutional amendments bestow the president with executive power to appoint ministers who will execute the president’s policies.  To prevent the executive from influencing the law making process, ministers will not be present in the Turkish General National Assembly during legislative functions.  The ministers will obtain their legitimacy directly from free and fair democratic elections through civil participation. Nonetheless, parliament will still enjoy the right to supervise and investigate the cabinet. In comparison the American executive system also has the same authority to appoint the secretariat, which appear before congress only by courtesy, not by an inherent congressional right to question them.

  1. President’s powers

Another critical issues under the proposed amendments is that the president will still be the direct chairman of his political party. The opposition argues that this grants the presidential role the full authority to practice direct controls over nominating members of parliament and cherry-picking loyalists. Yet taken in broader context this is the norm for many presidential systems and is not an authority granted specifically to the Turkish executive presidency. The American president is the functioning head of state and head of government and can keep party affiliations, this does not raise such claims of dictatorship and an implied exertion of pressure on the selection process of congressional nominees. It is a far call to imply that any future president of Turkey will be directly involved in the election of 600 deputies selected by electorates from different cultural, ethnic and religious minorities distributed across a geographical span of 81 provinces.

The opposition has also expressed that there may be cause for concern regarding claims of a possible presidential hegemony over the Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) preventing the overall independence of the judiciary. They argue that the proposed constitutional amendments allow the president to choose the head of the HSYK, the body in charge of all judicial appointments and have fabricated that the president will be able to choose more than half of the board’s members.

The proposed amendments reduce the number of members of the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors from 22 to 13, and eradicated practices of direct election of judges from within the judiciary itself. The Minister of Justice and the undersecretary of the Minister will be members of the HSYK. Four members will be appointed by the President, and seven will be elected by the Parliament. Parliament will select three of these members from the Supreme Court of Appeals, with two being a academics and the third a barrister, and one from among the members of the Council of State.

This is a crucial departure from the current system as it abandons the selection procedure of members of the HSYK by judges and prosecutors themselves. HSYK members being elected by judges and prosecutors that are not compelled to be impartial allows the election process to become politicized. The most powerful political movement that infiltrated the judiciary over the past decade has been the Fethullah Gulen Terrorist Organization (FETO). Judges and prosecutors of this terrorist organization only elected members of their own political affiliations and politicized the judiciary encouraging the emergence of political and ideological camps among the judges and prosecutors. During HSYK elections, candidates were favored for their political views, beliefs, ethnic and sectarian identities rather than their merits and professional qualifications. (Uzun, 2017). To overcome bureaucratic tutelage and consolidate neutrality of the judiciary, the proposed wording of the clause will also include ‘impartiality’ alongside ‘independent’.

In the US presidential system, the president also appoints federal judges and senior federal prosecutors. President Trump has recently discharged the acting attorney general because she declined to uphold his executive decree prohibiting refugees and people from predominantly Muslim countries to enter the borders of the state. The judiciary is inherently expected to serve their term and perform their duties impartially and in good faith.

Comparing to the proposed amendment to article 159, it can be seen the president will appoint four judges and prosecutors which is evidently the same as the constitution before the amendments. What is of importance is that the appointment of the judiciary by democratically elected representatives will prevent bureaucratic exploitation.

To strengthen the Rule of Law and eliminate the potential risk of another coup attempt, military courts will be abolished. A state inspection committee will be authorized to carryout inspections on the armed forces to harmonise political and military policy. The proposed amendment allows the establishment of disciplinary tribunals to persecute war crimes and human rights violations committed by military officials.

Article 159: The High Council of Judges and Persecutors

The current version

The proposed version

The High Council of Judges and Prosecutors shall be composed of 22 regular and 12 substitute members; and shall comprise three chambers. The members are elected for four years. Four regular members by the president, three regular, three substitute members by the court of cassation, one regular one substitute member by Turkish academy of justice, seven regular four substitute members by judges and prosecutors.

The High Council of Judges and Prosecutors shall be composed of 13 regular members; and shall comprise two chambers. The council’s four members are appointed from among judges and prosecutors by the president. Seven members are appointed by the Grand National Assembly. The minister of justice is the head of the council and the undersecretary is its natural member.

 

Another controversial amendment concerns the accountability of the President. Under the current constitution turkey has become well acquainted with the ‘unaccountable’ nature of the president whom can only be tried for treason and despite the authority allocated to the position, it is exempt from all criminal liability. A much welcomed amendment proposal that can only truly be merited upon comparison with the current constitution is the president’s criminal liability. Still the opposition argues that in article 105, the two-third majority vote required to launch investigations and three-quarter majority vote to appear before the constitutional court is too high. Clearly a high majority vote should be obtained before initiating criminal proceedings to prevent defaming a post of such high authority and secure stability and predictability of governance. Any preferences to the current article over the proposed amendment are just a dire reflection of the repercussions of having become so accustomed to authoritarian undemocratic procedures.

Article 105: the President’s criminal liability  

The current version

The proposed version

No appeal shall be made to any judicial authority, including the Constitutional Court, against the decisions and orders signed by the President of the Republic on his/her own initiative. The President of the Republic may be impeached for high treason on the proposal of at least one-third of the total number of members of the Grand National Assembly of Turkey. And by the decision of at least three-fourths of the total number of members.

A motion for initiating an investigation of the president on allegations of a crime must be given with an absolute majority of the members of the Grand National Assembly.

In case an investigation is opened. The investigations are carried out by a 15-member committee made up of the political parties in the parliament in proportion of their power.

The Grand National Assembly can take the decision to send the president to the Supreme Court with two thirds of its members’ secret votes.

A president under an investigation cannot take the decision to take the country to elections.

A president’s term is ended if he/she is sentenced to a crime which is among the conditions of presidential eligibility.

 

Prosperous future

Another welcomed amendment that adds to the overall inclusive spirt of the proposed constitution is that the candidacy age will be lowered from 25 to 18, providing an environment for young adults to thrive intellectually and increase their level of political participation. This opportunity presented to young adults emphasizes the importance of equal opportunities and appreciation of diverse perspectives that the reforms aim to protect.

If the public vote in favor of the amendments and endorse the proposed reforms:

  1. The new system will take effect in 2019, meanwhile Turkey will be governed by a transitional government until the elections of 2019.
  2. Concurrent elections will take place in 2019; In March 2019, municipal elections will be held and in November 3, 2019 the proposed synchronized presidential and parliamentary elections will be held. Thus, the presidential system will be put into effect.
  3. Immediately after the referendum, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will preside over his party and will be able to restore his party affiliations. He will enjoy the full authority to run for in-party elections and participate in all meetings and activities.
  4. The referendum aftershocks will cast a shadows on the two main opposition parties which will be reflected on the number of seats their representatives hold in parliament.
  5. A call for internal party elections in CHP will be inevitable and the change of leadership will be justified as a result of questioning the failure of their current leader.
  6. Devlet Bahceli the Turkish Nationalist Party’s leader, AK party’s semi-partner is anticipated to be nominated as one of the president’s deputies. Bahceli may decline this offer simply because his party will not continue to be an opposition party if he accepts the offer.
  7. It is uncertain what will happen to the pro-Kurdish HDP, whose co-chairs are currently detained because of their direction connections with terrorists who perpetrated criminal attacks.

Defeat

If the Turkish voters decide to vote against the proposed amendments:

  1. The constitutional changes will be shelved. It will be relatively difficult for the ruling party to reintroduce the bill in the near future.  
  2. President Erdogan and Devlet Bahceli have explicitly called for early elections if the amendments are not accepted. Kemal Kilicdaroglu will be up for the challenge proclaiming that his party is prepared early elections.
  3. Both the leaders of CHP and HDP will boost their chances in any coming new parliamentary election, while the unavoidable backlash will be felt stronger by MHP.
  4. Devlet Bahceli could receive internal resistance and fragmentation within the party for his support the reform package.  An early general election would most likely mean the MHP falling below the 10% election threshold and losing its chances to join the parliament as a political party again. The left wing of the MHP may slide toward CHP.

 

Conclusion

The objections to the amendments and the criticisms from the opposition parties, are all issues that should have been raised, discussed, and negotiated during the sessions held by the constitutional committee. The opposition had ample opportunity to contribute to debates, offer their perspectives and conduct awareness campaigns to inform the public on their position. However, they chose to reject the opportunity of brokering a deal that they may have been more content with because of unjustified intolerance and a reluctance to join the drafting sessions. After thorough scrutiny we can deduce that the primary stances of the opposition stem from two fundamental points. Firstly, they base their criticisms overwhelmingly on the personality of president Erdogan and not on the amendments themselves. This implies that they are driven by personal motives and not national or public interests. Second, the opposition is acting out of a deep concern for their own political future and self-preservation. They are aware that if the public endorses the constitutional reforms, their chances of becoming a ruling party will regretfully disappear because their chances of nominating a leader who could defeat Erdogan is almost impossible.  

Track record of Turkey's referendums

The pending referendum will be the 7th referendum in the history of the Turkish Republic.

  • 9 July 1961 Constitutional referendum. It was approved by 61.7% of voters, with an 81.0% turnout.
  • 7 November 1982 Constitutional referendum. The new constitution was approved by 91.4% of voters, with a 91.3% turnout.
  • 6 September 1987 Constitutional Referendum. The changes were narrowly approved by 50.2% of voters, with a 93.36% turnout.
  • 25 September 1988 Referendum. The proposed changes to the constitution would have led to the 1989 local elections being held a year early. However, they were voted down, with 65% of voters against. Turnout was 88.8%. (this was the only referendum resulting in a "No").
  • 21 October 2007 Constitutional referendum on holding presidential elections and amendments to certain articles of the constitution was approved (68.95% Yes, 31.05% No).
  • 12 September 2010 Referendum on amendments to certain articles of the constitution was approved (57.9% Yes, 42.1% No)

A version of this report was originally published in Al Jazeera Centre for Studies on 13 April, 2017

The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and editorial policies of TRT World.